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Uganda Premier League title race: Blink and you are gone

 Villa’s Travis Mutyaba (L) contests for the ball with KCCA FC’s Moses Waiswa

Villa’s Travis Mutyaba (L) contests for the ball with KCCA FC’s Moses Waiswa

SC Villa, KCCA and Vipers are locked in a three-horse title race that continues to keep followers of the Uganda Premier League on tenterhooks, writes MARK NAMANYA.

The 2023-23 Uganda Premier League title race can be called many things. In some way, it is a Championship none of the three teams wants to lose.

KCCA thrashed SC Villa in magnificent fashion but the same side couldn’t beat Onduparaka, Blacks Power and UPDF. They also failed to score in key matches against Vipers and Express.

SC Villa and Vipers, meanwhile, have perfected the art of blowing hot and cold. The Jogoos stunned Vipers at Wankulukuku yet somehow conspired to lose games to Arua Hill and Maroons. The SC Villa side that put together a six-match winning streak has fallen apart at the business end of the season.

The Venoms of Kitende are not any different. With Vipers, you just don’t know what to expect from Alex Isabirye’s side. They looked decent in the big stakes victory over KCCA but, since then, they have looked anything but a team with championship aspirations.

Vipers were poor away to Onduparaka and insipid in defeat at Bright Stars. But the 2022-23 Uganda Premier League title race can also be called a contest of nerves.

It is becoming apparent that the trophy will be lifted by the side that manages the emotions of the pressure cooker best. This is a blink-once-lose-it-all scenario. There are no second chances.

As it stands, there are only two rounds left. Put simply, the Championship as come to down to 180 minutes of matches involving Vipers, KCCA and SC Villa. Whoever manages those minutes best will most likely laugh last.

In the 55-year history of Uganda’s main division, there have only been two occasions when the trophy was decided on goal difference. In 1970, which was the third season of Uganda’s top flight division, Coffee Kakira pipped Uganda Police to the championship on goal difference.

Both Coffee Kakira and Uganda Police had identical records of 10 matches played, eight drawn and one draw and loss. They garnered 17 points – back then a win was rewarded with two points – but Coffee prevailed because of having a goal difference of +27. Police had +21.

The other year the league was decided on goal difference was in 1985 when KCCA pipped Express to the title. Both sides were locked on 41 points but the Kasasiro Boys, for whom Frank Kyazze top scored with 28 goals, beat the Red Eagles to the crown with a +3 goal advantage.

This year there is a likelihood that the season could come down to goal difference. If it does, SC Villa will be disadvantaged. Vipers hold the edge in the goal difference stakes but KCCA are close on their heels.

What makes this season’s race all the more fascinating is because the last two fixtures for all three contenders are very tough matches. Vipers have a daunting trip to Jinja to play BUL in a match that will see coach Isabirye plotting the downfall of his former employers. BUL, who beat Vipers in last year’s Uganda Cup final, are a tricky opponent particularly when playing on their own turf.

After BUL, the Venoms wrap up their season with a home encounter against Busoga United. On paper, Vipers will be favourites but being a match of high stakes and the pressure that will come with it being a championship-deciding clash, anything is possible.

Lest we forget, Busoga United are fighting to preserve their topflight status and will want to do whatever it takes to frustrate Vipers.

KCCA, meanwhile, travel to Jinja to play Busoga United before closing their turbulent season with a home game against Bright Stars at the Phillip Omondi stadium, Lugogo. Asaph Mwebaze’s Bright Stars stuttered Vipers’ title bid and KCCA will be wary of a team that knows how to rise to the occasion against the big boys.

It is only SC Villa which has back-to-back home games but the Jogoos have chosen the worst period of the season to misfire. With Blacks Power locked in a relegation dogfight and Nelly Jackson Magera’s side suffering a confidence crisis, that showdown will have Villa fans biting their nails throughout 90 minutes.

Villa finish the season with a difficult game against URA. Their fans will be hoping that the club can somehow end their 19-year barren title run in the Uganda Premier League. The Uganda Premier League is now down to just two matches. The side that blinks first will have a long post-season of ponder.

Friday, May 19@4pm:

• Onduparaka v Blacks Power
• Express v Maroons
• Gaddafi FC v UPDF FC

Tuesday, May 23@4pm:

• BUL v Vipers
• SC Villa v Blacks Power
• KCCA v Busoga United
• URA v Gaddafi FC

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